Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
Frida Ghitis: Trump's first 100 days in office have proven the resiliency of America's style of democracy
From grassroots activism to federal court rulings, democracy has stood as a check on the whims of a fickle president, writes Ghitis
On the 100th day of his presidency, Donald Trump again attacked the media and stoked the embers of divisiveness that fueled his election. But on the very same day, Americans – even the majority who disapprove of Trump’s presidency – could find reasons to celebrate.
No, Trump has not turned out to be any less inflammatory as a president than he was as a candidate. And it’s far too early to claim the US has averted disaster. But the American people’s reaction to Trump’s election has proven much stronger than anyone expected.
And with the 100-day marker signaling the end of the beginning of his presidency, Americans, and a closely-watching world, can take note: America’s system of democracy is strong. It’s strong enough to stand up to a man with visceral authoritarian tendencies and who came to power surrounded by conspiracy-minded ideologues vowing to “deconstruct” the system.
As Trump spoke before a large crowd (not an “all-time record,” as he claimed) in Pennsylvania, journalists gathered in Washington to highlight the importance of a free press for the survival of democracy.
Trump was the first president to stay away from the White House correspondents’ dinner since 1981, when Ronald Reagan couldn’t attend because he was recovering from an assassination attempt. Reagan sent his regrets.
Trump insulted the press, calling them “enemies of the people” – a phrase favored by Stalin – in the hopes that people will ignore the news that is not to his liking, including approval ratings that are lower than any modern president’s at this point in his term.
Complaining about his failure to achieve very much, Trump also called the American system “archaic,” or bad for the country.
The reality is rather the opposite. The system is working surprisingly well.
From the day he took office, it became clear that Americans who saw Trump as a threat to the country’s fundamental values would not sit home and mope – or run off to hide in Canada.
Incensed to see a man who bragged about sexual assault become president, women on Inauguration Day organized marches in every state of the union. And they succeeded, with millions taking to the streets in what may have been the biggest single day of demonstration in US history. That sent a powerful message to Congress and helped energize the nation.
By then, Trump’s disdain for the First Amendment, his constant efforts to discredit the media, his blatant efforts to cash in on the presidency, his verbal attacks on refugees and immigrants and his entourage of conspiracy theorists and climate deniers had already sounded the alarm. Many started calling themselves “the resistance,” a term more commonly used during times of foreign occupation, and a sign that they view Trump not as a president with whom they disagree, but as a genuine and severe threat to the country.
Popular resistance to Trump started paying off immediately. When the White House issued an executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the country, spontaneous demonstrators swarmed airports across the country. Lawyers with laptops sitting on airport floors drafted legal documents. Attorneys general and state prosecutors filed emergency cases before judges in several states.
Incredibly, Trump’s orders were blocked. The president was furious. And when he rewrote the plan, it was blocked again.
The separation of powers worked. Independent judges did their job. The federal system worked. Independent states challenged the federal government. The Constitution worked. The Founding Fathers, who might have been turning in their graves hearing Trump’s multiple verbal assaults on the freedoms they espoused, would have been happy to see their design hold up under fire.
A free press has shone a bright light on the Trump team’s secret ties to Russia. Because of journalists, we learned that Mike Flynn, Trump’s dangerous choice for National Security Advisor, lied about meetings with Russian officials and was paid as an agent of Turkey. Trump replaced him with Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a widely praised addition to a foreign policy team that now includes some well-qualified, reasonable figures.
Trump's first 100 days: From CNN Opinion
In the meantime, multiple congressional investigations and an FBI probe are looking into Russia’s involvement in the election and the possible links with Trump’s campaign. The Republican-led congressional side of the investigations is far from impressive, but it is occurring. In most countries, this would be unimaginable. The FBI and Congress, investigating a foreign government the president praised repeatedly on the campaign trail and in the early days of his administration, are seemingly open to following the evidence as far as it leads, even if it leads to Trump himself.
But perhaps nothing is more astonishing that Trump’s failure to make progress on most of his signature promises, even though his party controls all three branches of government.
The Republicans may have a majority in the House and the Senate, but when Trump tried to pass his promised “repeal and replace” of Obama’s health care plan, members of his own party balked. The same was true for his idea for a wall on the Mexican border. Trump had absurdly promised to have Mexico pay for the wall. When he asked Congress to approve money for the project, he got nowhere.
That is not to say that Trump’s presidency has been inconsequential. He has already done a great deal of harm. His contempt for facts, his “gaslighting” techniques – tampering with reality to cast doubt on truth – his embrace of dictators and disregard for human rights around the world have already stained America’s credibility and its cherished position as a champion of democratic values and freedom.
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So far, the presidency has proven a difficult and frustrating exercise for Trump. No wonder he said the job is harder than he expected. But it’s early yet. One hundred days still leaves more than 90% of a presidential term.
History will record that the Trump presidency was a major test for American democracy and its system of government. The good news is that Americans are actively defending their rights. Democracy is winning. So far.